Those arriving in Japan in October may find themselves perplexed come 31st. There are no house parties, no trick-or-treating, and certainly no haunted houses in the local mall. Japan celebrates Halloween somewhat differently to other countries.
Shibuya's Halloween street parties are enormously popular
Japan has its own Buddhist holiday in August, Obon, during which spirits trapped between worlds are sent back. It’s not a scary holiday, but it does somewhat enter into Halloween territory. Perhaps that’s why Halloween takes on a whole new meaning here.
Halloween doesn’t have a long history in Japan. It’s only started to boom in popularity within the past decade. What began with annual spooky Halloween festivities at Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka in the early 2000s has exploded into celebrations on an epic scale. When summer starts to turn to fall, you’ll find eerie store-front decorations, grinning jack-o-lanterns, and costume parties that swallow entire city blocks.
In Japan, the season of the witch is in full swing from September right through to the end of October. Many Japanese stores and restaurants take this time to offer Halloween-themed snacks and dishes, though you may not find that pumpkin pie you’re looking for. A more common sight are black burgers, with buns colored by squid ink, available from fast food chains. Similarly popular are snacks and desserts made with a staple of the Japanese autumnal harvest: sweet potatoes. Convenience stores often sell spooky-themed treats or seasonal food only available around Halloween. And though there is no trick-or-treating in Japan, bags of candy and Halloween treats are available at every major supermarket and grocery store.
Halloween costumes are on another level in Japan
There are two major ways of celebrating Halloween in Japan: event festivities or giant, costumed street parties. For those with young children in tow, festive events are the way to go. Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan are safe bets for family fun, but for those not looking to break the bank, the Kawasaki Halloween Parade is a great—and free—choice. Now in its 23rd year, the Kawasaki Halloween Parade was the first major annual Halloween event in Japan. Spectators can enjoy thousands of wildly costumed contestants parading around near JR Kawasaki Station. For the older crowd however, there is no better way to enjoy the pageantry of Halloween night in Japan than to join the massive costumed street parties that take place in most major cities. The two largest gatherings take place in Tokyo and Osaka.
What was once a smattering of disparate parties and events put on by clubs in Shibuya several years ago has coalesced into a massive and ever-growing street party that engulfs the city every Halloween. Witches, vampires, zombies, and the occasional anime character, numbering in the tens of thousands, come from all over Tokyo and neighboring prefectures to drink, party, and revel in the streets. With so many people, things tend to get more than a little out of hand. In 2018, a van was flipped amidst an altercation prompting local law enforcement to outlaw the public consumption of alcohol in Shibuya during Halloween.
Kawasaki's Halloween Parade is one of the biggest parties in the country
Compared to Shibuya, the street party in Osaka’s American Village, or “Amemura,” is relatively mellow. There are far less people, and the party atmosphere is much more laid back. It is not uncommon for street DJs to begin playing sets in the street or dance parties to randomly break out.
The infamous aftermath of these Halloween street parties are known far and wide, especially by the local residents of Shibuya and Amemura. Trash litters the streets in piles, leading to many locals and volunteers having to spend days cleaning up the mess. This may be, in part, to the lack of public trash cans in Japan, but that should be no excuse. If you plan on attending these Halloween street gatherings, be sure to take your trash with you and treat Japanese public spaces with respect.
About the author
Andrew Echeverria has been living in Japan for 5 years and currently makes his home in a haunted apartment in Kansai. When he's not guzzling coffee and translating video games, he's listening to the strange sounds coming from the vacant room next door...